Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Touch of Gray

I was very happy to see how well the gray covered the red. The very fine line for the neon stayed open surprisingly well. I am especially happy that the sky is turning out so well. I just wanted a touch of that flame red in the sky, but I wasn't sure how I wanted to use it. I think I have just enough red in the sky, and I'm thinking of modifying the original color I had planned.

I'm a little nervous still about about the red I used. It's a tricky thing creating light with printing inks. We'll have to see if the color pops better as the colors in this print get darker.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Green Was My Valley?

Well, that made the flowers pop, didn't it. I love the bright colors on this one. The weekend was actually about as productive as last weekend, with a lot of printing going on in the studio.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Red, Son? At NIGHT?

Ha ha. I do love a good pun. Anyway, if you've been reading this blog for a while, and I know you have (I'm apparently very popular with someone in Latvia (Heloooooo Riga!)) you know that I have a certain history with red. For some reason, I love to add it to a print early in the process, and then battle my way through the rest of the print trying to escape the red showing through.

"Motel DeSoto" third state (red)
This time is different. Through thorough testing and color selection, and the fact that this is a sunset scene where everything has a certain red tinge, this was the perfect opportunity to add this magnificent bright red. I don't want to go into detail about where the red will be used, but I will say that you shouldn't expect an update on this print for several days, due to the fact that I have a lot of fine-line carving to do, and I intend for it to be awesome, so I'm going to go as slow as I need to. In the meantime, though, I'm looking forward to putting a couple of colors down on "Sunflower Farm" this weekend.

As for what we're looking at now, you can see the outdoor recessed lights on the exterior ceiling, as well as the face of a clock (it's not a moon), and now also you see rows of windows in the background, and the lit windows of the motel office.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Here Comes The Sun...And It's All Right!

It seems that in woodcut printmaking, there are a few subjects every printmaker takes a shot at. Cows are one, and/or animals with stripes. Another is the sunset at the beach. But the one that is probably tried at least once by a goo 90% or more of block printers is the humble sunflower.

And now, at last, my turn. This print is inspired by an acceidental stumbling upon a sunflower farm somewhere in Western New York (I'm not being purposely vague; we really can't remember where the hell it is). I took a few pictures there, and one with a red barn in the background was so nice, I wanted to enter it in the Erie County Fair's photography competition. Due to time constraints and technical difficulties, that didn't happen. So, I decided to use it as a model for this print.

While I was drawing out the cartoon from which I'm now working, I realized how dull it can be trying to be "photorealistic," and decided to go with a more whimsical, expressionist approach. This may be the departure that sends me on the way to a new style of woodcut. Glad you could be here to see it!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Torrential Output

It's been a very busy weekend in the studio. Not sure what spurred it, but it resulted in getting way ahead on two new prints. The first, tentatively titled "Sunflower Farm," had an interesting unintended consequence. Having learned from my issues on preveious prints, I decided to put down a blue sky without inking the whole block. Then, when I printed the nice bright yellow, I got hills! Green hills! And they're right where I was planning to put green hills. Unfortunately, this anomaly will get printed over anyway, as it isn't the green I want, but it was a nice surprise I will have to revisit down the road.
And here's a little shot of the "Sunflower" block to give an idea of the layout. More on how this picture came to be will follow in the coming days and weeks.
And here is the first and second states of the "Desoto Motel" print. Since you can't really tell, the first color was a white very lightly tinted blue. This will be the outdoor lights on the exposed ceiling just outside the foyer. I'm really excited about this print, as it is an evening scene calling for both very bright and very dark colors, a print of great contrasts.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Memorial Day (Eleven Color Woodcut, 2013)

What an adventure this was! I'm still not sure about the black. And, actually, I'm just now wondering if I'm really done. I'm teasing myself with the idea of adding brown to the branches. But I'm putting it on the back burner for now. I am turning my attention to two prints now. The first is a "googie" style (look it up) motel (abandoned) we found in Olean called the DeSoto. The second is from a nearby sunflower farm, so please stay tuned to watch these come together. And let's see if I've really learned anything!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shadowy Figure

Many years ago, before I found my passion for printmaking, my dream was to be a writer. I concentrated on short fiction, heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and Rod Serling. This meant dark depressing prose, surreal plot twists, and "you-can-guess-the-rest" endings. All three seriously unnerved my wife, but none more so than the endings. She'd read a story, actually enjoying the writing, until the end, and she'd look up and say "Where's the rest?" It sure made me cranky, but over time, I have come to realize she's right. Not about most things. No, about everything.

Okay, she's probably left the blog. Here's the real story: my wife is a critic's critic. If she could write worth a damn, the artists, writers and musicians of the world would be trembling. And no, her batting average as far as being right probably gets around .200. Except with my work. Yes, she was spot on with the short stories, and she's a vicious truthteller regarding my artwork. So yesterday, after I wrapped up the dark blue, I brought it to her and asked what I thought. I was asking because I thought the blue might be enough. I've seen woodcuts without a black key block, and I've liked the effect, at times. But I just wasn't sure about this print.

The silence that emanated from her answered the question before her lips even moved. So, black it is!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Green Green Grass of (ALMOST!) Home

I apologize again for the lousy picture. I need to stop using my camera phone, but for now it's the best I can do. The camera really doesn't pick up the beautiful effect created by the second layer of green. It really gives the piece texture and depth. I was pretty stunned when I saw how it printed. This print has been particularly destructive to the block, which makes it a challenge to properly ink the block. There isn't much left on the block to carve. But so far, the print is looking really, really good. A dark blue and a black will finish this off. It has been one of my most challenging prints to date, probably more so than "Autumn Camper."

Already thinking about the next print. There are so many things I want to try. And though I wouldn't mind a simple four color job, I kee looking to push the envelope.

'Cause that's why, you know, I'm the, er, bad boy of block printing. Yarp.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Red Means GO!

I would like to thank the judges for the Fine Arts competition at the 2013 Erie County Fair (Hamburg, New York) for selecting my print "Autumn Camper" for Second Place (Red Ribbon)--Professional division. It's a real honor to be judged by one's peers. The competition is nothing short of amazing, and if you make it to the Fair this year, please stop by the arts building located at the lower level of the Grandstand. The Fair has made so many improvements to the interior that it's a real treat to spend some time looking at the amazing talents of your friends and neighbors. It's also the coldest place at the Fair -- the A/C is full blast all the time!

It has been eleven years since I entered my very first color reduction woodcut print into the Fair competition, taking second place in the Novice Division. It's always been an honor to hang on the wall with some really great work.

Congratulations also to my wife, Amy, who's flowers made of cut aluminum soda cans earned a white ribbon in the Recycled Crafts competition!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Green Light!

Well, here in the Western New York region, the past few days have been pretty chilly, and the James E. Strates Shows train has pulled into the village depot signalling a.) the start of the Erie County Fair and b.) the coming end of summer. I know, it's barely August, but knowing that, after the Fair, it's a pretty fast slide into dark mornings and frosty nights.

However, the bright green of the latest state for "Memorial Day" has cheered me immensely. There are three more colors left, and I hope to use them to really bring some depth to this print. The last three are dark green, dark blue and black.

I was very concerned about the green, because the color is made with pthalo green and hansa yellow, two very transparent inks. However, I got a nice surprise -- the ink worked well with the blue beneath it, toning down the yellow in the color and bringing out a more natural, summery leaf green.

Speaking of the Fair, my print "Autumn Camper" will be in competition in the Arts Building. It's been a while since I entered, and I'm happy to be back on the wall. Judging by the entries I saw on drop off day, the competition is stiff, with so much great art, from amateur to professional. I would hate to be a judge. I love to see other artists doing greatwork, and I hope to be soundly trounced.

I have to praise the Erie County Fair for making the recarpeting of the Arts Building a priority. The building, which was formerly the racetrack's casino, had the garish floors only Donald Trump could love. They were downright disorienting. But now, they are a nice neutral, and there are quilt-like paintings on the ceilings. Great job -- it makes the building a lot more pleasant to spend time in.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blue State

After a great deal of research and testing, I was able to concoct an ink that would cover the red yet retain the brightest blue I could create under the conditions.

The greatest issue one has in making a reduction print is coverage from layer to layer. As the ink builds up on the paper, unevenness of the layers becomes a very big issue.

When I first began over a decade ago, I printed with very thick, heavy inks, which gave the prints and almost impasto-like texture. The drawback to heavy inking is that small details and definition can get lost. I have since upgraded the quality of my inks and thin them liberally with burnt plate oil; this has solved the bulk of my issues.

Unfortunately, this has also empoldened me to continue to push the envelope by printing blues over reds, only to be left wondering "WHAT HAPPENED????!!!!"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Blue It

HA! That's what I get. yesterday, I was feeling quite confident: The colors were vibrant, the register dead-on. I was once again, in my mind, the Bad Boy of Block Printing. Then I went home to find that I am actually the Boy of BAD Block Printing.

Okay, that's a harsh self criticism, and I have already completed the post-mortem to find what went wrong. And, to my credit, I did stop after I saw the first horrible, horrible print.

That dark color you see in the print, that's actually a beautiful Ultramarine Blue. Do not adjust your monitor. Yes, it is comparable to Portland Black...when printed over something, like, say, scarlet. The reason, of course, is that the ultramarine is as clear as water. What annoys me is a) I've done this exact thing before [some nine years ago] and b) I saw how transparent it was on the plate.

So, I have done some research, and have found a way to get the results. Stay tuned for that in coming days.

I was also surprised that the ink wasn't covering as nice as previous layers. Remember what I said about drying times yesterday? Well, I guess I was right on that.

So, I'm coming away a bit smarter (hope it sticks with me this time). However, as the ink technician and "color expert" for a commercial printing company, I sure do feel like a doofus.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Red Scare

Subtitle this post "Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Potential Disaster." That is the nature of reduction printmaking.

The red is very strong, and I'm a little concerned about the next color, blue, going over it unbufferred. I really don't want to add another layer of white, but I will if I need to.

Some printmakers brush on colors only where they need them, and I have tried that in the past; it does make sense, when you consider that the only place I need the red is on the flag (I think you can see the flag pretty clearly, now). I haven't liked the end result of "spot colors" in my prints in the past, though it's been a while since I've tried, and maybe I'll try it on my next print.

I am particularly happy with my register on this print. By now, I've usually lost a few to a bouncy register. I don't know why things have clicked so well, although I do suspect that the extra-long drying time may help (due to my procrastination!)

I am eager to do some tests to see how I can get the blue down without a white layer, as that will leave me only three colors left.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dark Side

This latest color will eventually fill out the flowers behind and around the stone. The scene looks pretty jarring with that dark pink, and this is the stage of a print I call the "awkward phase," because it's so hard to imagine it looking like I want it to when the colors are so strong.
But, I've been here before, so I have learned to set aside doubt and press on. This process is called the "reduction method," and has been used throughout printing history. Traditionally, one block gets used for all the colors in a "carve, print, carve, print" manner; in this process, the block is destroyed. If I were to find that, when I put the dark pink on, I didn't like the light pink, or the light pink was too dark, I can't go back and change it, and this usually means I have to start over from scratch. This means that I do a lot of color testing before I begin printing. I will not only create a color chart of colors I will use, but I will also see how they print over one another.

This only reduces the threat of catastrophe, of course; threats loom large over a reduction print from start to finish. The result of a successful print though is a very unique and colorful piece of work.

Update on Etsy Site: You may be wondering why the prints on this blog are not available on at the moment. I do apologize for any inconvenience. However, with moving, resetting the studio, and presently having no home computer, along with the time needed to actually produce the work, I have not really felt able to give the time to monitor the Etsy site and process orders. GOOD NEWS! I am recatalogging the old work, and will have both old and new work available at the end of August. Of course, if you just gotta have something right away, you can call anytime and we'll work out details. (716) 997-3046, or

Friday, July 12, 2013

In The Pink

I'm sure you'd be entertained by what happens in these lapses between states, likely far more than I am. But the important thing is, I always come back.
So, excusing once again today's lousy photography, you can probably make out the flag to the lower right of the headstone. I wasn't sure what I really wanted for the color, but I think this bright pink really does it. It is also the color of black raspberry icecream, and it made me very hungry while printing. The next color is a darker version of the pink above, and I think you'll really get a good idea of what I'm going for in the next two passes.
In addition, I am presently engaged in a few experiments to offer these prints as hand-printed greeting cards, so please stay tuned!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Lighter Side of Graveyards

As was the case for the last print, I had to overcome a very oppressive darker color to allow the brightness of future colors to show. The second color on "Memorial Day" was a very dark shadow gray, and the next color is a bright pink. I printed a buffer of plain white, which brought the color down to a more manageable shade.

The method at work here is called "reduction printing," in which one block is used, and areas are cut away for each color. The drawback to this method is trying to maintain the brightness of colors; you can usually tell a reduction print by the darkness of the colors; I have had prints start of with explosive, bright color, only to end up a muddy mess. A few talented printers out there have somehow beat the system (I recommend Gordon Mortenson as a prime example). I intend to be in that small crowd.

As you can see in the above photo, the white has buffered the dark gray back to a very light gray. This should accept the light pink very easily. It is hard to get an idea of where the print is going in this view, but in this backlit picture, you get a better idea of what I'm going for.

The next challenge is creating a vibrant pink and presenting it in a way that is going to breath some life into what at this stage looks like a very cold print!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hidden Gems

My wife and I are road trip junkies; every weekend finds us lost somewhere in the hills and valleys surrounding Buffalo. This is a great time of year, full of freshly mown grass, bright blue skies and roadside stands bursting with nature's bounty.

Our artists' eyes dart along the landscape, looking for interesting ideas and compositions. This work in progress, "Memorial Day," was a happy accident. As we were driving around the village of Cuba, we missed a turn to a wildlife management area. I turned around by ducking into a small cemetery, still decorated with flags from Memorial Day the weekend before.

The aged stones agains the bright flowers and lush greens of the lawn and surrounding trees left a mark on me, and I knew I would have to mark up some paper when I got home.

This is the first two colors, a very light gray and a dark gray. I'm very nervous about this one, as I need to create bright colors over the very dark gray. Please stay tuned as I try to navigate this one without it ending up in the print graveyard.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Autumn Camping

Last night I finished this print, still untitled, and I have to say that I am extremely pleased with the result. I apologize for the picture quality (camera phone, poor light). The colors really seen to come out with the addition of the brown and black.

For those in the know, this is the second print I have done of one of these small vintage trailers. The first, "Little Camper" (2009) was a favorite at shows. It was never my favorite, believing I could do better work. That years ago now. I'm more confident with my style, I'm working in a larger format, and I have become far more knowledgeable of the subject. We see these beautiful little midcentury gems all over in our travels, and while I wasn't looking for a "trademark" subject, I can guarantee you will be seeing more of these in the near future.

"Little Camper" (2009) Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Dean


Monday, June 10, 2013

What Can Brown Do For You?

I'll admit to being a little discouraged following the printing of the last color. It's sort of a curse with reduction printing -- you just don't know how the finished product will look until it's done. And I will admit to being more than a little surprised when the brown layer seemed to bring the whole picture to life.
There is one more color -- the black -- which should really give everything some definition. The brown really brings out the reds and oranges of the leaves, and enhancing the warmer colors really brings the cool turquoise out.
I was about halfway through with the turquoise when I almost trashed the bunch. Artistic temperament, I guess. Luckily, a deep breath, and some soothing tunes from Bob Dylan's Tempest CD, and I continued.
Uncle Bob has seen me through a lot of tough spots.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And We're Back

Well, I sure do need to focus, don't I.

There are two more colors to go on this one, but I'm very skeptical about how it's all going to come together. I guess I'll just shut up about it until I'm done.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not Out of the Woods Yet!

For state number six, I've added a dark gray which will approximate a brushed silver for certain elements such as door and window frames, the wheel cover and perhaps some small trees in the woods. The gray is very close to the beige color, so the photograph doesn't really do it justice. I'm really very happy with how the print is turning out now. The color of the sky is exactly what I wanted, and the reflecting puddles are much more pronounced than they were on the first attempt of this print.
The next color is the retro turquoise which will really make the camper the center of attention, and a deep red is going to pull the background and foreground together and help connect the color in the trees to the color on the ground.
The last to colors I've planned are brown and black, which will finish the print. Estimated completion date is Sunday.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Am I Blue?

Nope, but the sky will be now. It may be difficult to make out other details with the entire block in blue now, but as you can see by the proof on the left, the picture is coming together just fine. Hard to believe there's still five colors yet to go!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Here Comes the Camper!

It's coming along now. You will really start to see the camper when I print the next state, which I believe is blue.

The register on this print has held so tight. Usually I have problems when I get to this many layers, but I'm really happy with how the register has held up.

Reduction printing, which uses the same block for all colors, is known for its excellent register; however, the oils in the ink and the solvents used to clean the block can cause the edges of cut areas to shrink back (solvents also tend to weaken the wood, causing the fibers to begin crumbling; this is why I have always preferred to do thin lines early in the process, unlike this job in which I will be cutting out branches in solvent-brittled wood).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Everything's Better With Buffer!

What? Did it snow?
Well, I warned you that drastic changes were coming to this print. But don't be afraid; it's all by design.

As I mentioned in the last post, the red, while beautiful, was too intense to print the next colors over it. So, after carving out the red areas, I printed a "buffer" layer of white. The change is quite amazing, and if I hadn't been here before, I'd be scared.

But I have the benefit of knowing what colors come next. You're just going to have to trust me!

It may be hard to believe, but the finished print will have a very rich and red forest floor, and a brilliant blue sky. 

I could have opted to forgo the white layer and to just print the next color, beighe, but I was concerned that the red would affect the beige too much. I think, given how pink the white looks, I made the right call.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fall's Flamin' Foliage

Autumnal Glory: State #3
It might look like the inside of Hell's furnace, but the print so far has been nothing but heaven. The red went down over the orange and yellow beautifully, and you can start to see small details take shape.

Printing is always about balance and give and take, and this print is no exception. By printing the blues and grays first, the print ended up losing a lot of its punch with the other, brighter colors. By printing the bright colors of the foliage first, I am keeping the colors bright and vibrant; however, as I now turn to blues and pastels for the rest of the print, I run into a big conundrum. Any color I print now will be affected by that flaming red.

To minimize this, I will next print a straight white "buffer layer" to neutralize the red. The next color is a beige; if I don't print the white layer, the beige will be pink. And I will cry pink tears.

The register of the colors has thus far been impeccable, and it is vital that the buffer layer be printed with just as much care to keep the colors lining up. I don't like printing buffer layers; it sorta feels like cheating. I don't know why I feel that way, as we do it in professional commercial printing all the time. I get some weird ideas sometimes.

I just worked out the math and, best case scenario is that this print won't be done until next Saturday! So check back often!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bright Idea

So, as we can see, printing a bright color over a bright color tends to keep the colors, well, bright. I'm really happy with the colors and how the ink is laying down this time.

I'm working from a pencil drawing, and am actually using no photographic references for the colors. Growing up in Western New York, I like to think I know a little something about fall colors.

That said, yellow and orange are pretty easy. The hardest color I've designed for this print may well be the red. Think for a minute: what is an ideal autumnal red color? Is it the deep maroon of big old maple leaves? The bleeding red of sumac? Rust? Fire?

Oh, man, I think I just panicked myself! Stay tuned!

Eight states and I just can't wait.

Friday, February 8, 2013

You Go Back, Jack, Do It Again...

Well, having learned plenty of lessons from the last month, I am coming out swinging. I am completely changing the order of colors, starting with yellow. When I began printmaking 11 years ago, yellow was always the color I started with, until I realized that it was causing trouble with some of the later colors, like grays.

The expected path for this print is yellow, orange, red, beige, gray, blue, turquoise, rust, brown and black. Due to a really stupid mistake involving a razor blade, I lost five sheets right off the bat, so we're down to an edition of 15. Of course, that's always subject to change.

Incidently, the paper is 115 gsm Rives offwhite. I bought it at Hyatt's on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. I like to get it there, because I think it's important to support local businesses. However, if anyone from Hyatt's happens to read this post, STOP PUTTING YOUR GD BARCODE STICKERS SO FAR FROM THE EDGE -- THE ADHESIVE TEARS OFF PART OF THE PAPER. Unfortunately, I've been having a lot of problems with Hyatt's, and I am nowhere near a picky high-maintenance shopper. It may be back to Blick for this Bad Boy of Block.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Failure: Always An Option

Ever get to color number six on your twenty-edition reduction woodcut you've been working on for the last month, only to discover that you screwed up a color, and it's too late to go back?

I have!

Ugh. Pretty demoralizing. But turn that frown upside down. I'm starting over right away.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

That Awkward Stage

So, now the print enters the awkward stage. You start gambling on colors, maybe start improvising here and there. The only thing to guide you at this point is the vision you have in your mind, the one that got you started down this road in the first place.

I particularly hate printing light colors over dark colors. Although this state completes the form of the trailer, the details of the woods around it are only hinted at. As I mentioned in the last post, I knew that the yellow going over the turquoise would present special challenges.

However, I added red to the yellow ink (which has a naturally green cast). The extra red helped curb the color's tendency to blend with the turquoise and make a lime green. The result is a gold that I think will blend well with the oranges and reds to come. I hemmed and hawed about printing another yellow, but I think the gold will serve the autumnal feel well.

Every print I've done has had this awkward stage, and I've learned to just push through it. I know I'll be rewarded if I stop fretting about it and concentrate on carving and printing the next colors.

Five colors to go!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Taking Shape

This is my favorite point in a print -- when you really get to see what's forming. My prints are produced using the "reduction method," whereby a block is cut and printed over and over until the print is complete (and the block is destroyed). There's no way to know what a print will really look like until it's done. All you have is a drawing, and an idea.

I'm excited to be moving into the warmer colors now, as I turn the scene from icy blue into the warm brilliance of autumn. There are six more colors on this print left to go.

I am a little nervouse printing such a dark color before launching into the brighter colors. I've lost a lot of prints to mismanaged colors, I'm hoping my day job as a color and ink technician can keep me out of the abyss. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Back In The Woods!

The first new print for 2013 is well under way. This is color number 3 (Sorryfor the bad camera phone picture).

So far untitled, this will be a "canned ham" style trailer in an autumn woods setting.

I'm devoted to midcentury style, art and architecture, and you will see this devotion pop up in my work more and more, I'm sure. I have touched on the trailer theme before, in the much-loved print "Little Camper" (see earlier posts).

This is stab number 2 at this particular print. I had begun it several weeks ago, but discovered that the heavy weight paper I was using was just not working for block printing. I did some research and found this lightweight Rives paper I'd actually used with great success several years ago. It's clear we were made for each other, as the printing has been a dream.

There are 7 more colors to go.